Copywriter, Human Resources Manager, and Marketing Expert
One of the best ways to stand out during an interview is to be prepared. While most candidates will come ready with answers to questions about their biggest strengths, weaknesses, and five-year plans, being an exceptional candidate in a competitive field requires even more. If you want to have the confidence and preparation to be ready to ace even the toughest interviews, it’s time to start thinking like an interviewer. Here’s what modern job seekers need to know about the many kinds of interview questions and answers.
Where did job interview questions come from?
Before people held jobs in the way that we think of them today, there was agriculture and apprenticeship. During this time, occupations were handed down family lines, so there was never much thought given to matching the right employee and employer.
By the 1800s, the industrial revolution had meant that there were more jobs. Many of these were unskilled labor jobs that required more labor than a single family could manage. This led to job openings and the need to screen out employees who would not adjust well to the factory-based workplace. In 1921, prolific inventor and businessman, Thomas Edison, created a written test to evaluate the knowledge of candidates. Thus the first job interview questions were born.
Edison’s interview questions were quite a stretch for applicants at the time, similar to the quirky and complex questions asked by tech firms like Google. These questions were leaked and published in the New York Times. It included queries such as, “Where do we import cork from?”, “How is sulphuric acid made?”, and “Who was Hannibal?”
Preparing for the most common interview questions
In most cases, the position you are applying for and the employer interviewing you will have the biggest impact on the questions you are asked. That said, there are several common interview questions that are asked at nearly every interview, whether you’re applying for a part-time job, an academic program, or another opportunity. These are the top 10 interview questions you should be prepared for in any interview situation.
While not technically a question, many interviewers tend to start off with a general “tell me about yourself”-style question to break the ice and get a bit of background about an applicant’s prior experience and knowledge.
Potential employers are always looking for individuals who can both perform the job duties and integrate with their existing team. By asking about your greatest strengths, they can get an idea of your professional capabilities, your working style, and your personality.
3. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Asking about your future goals and plans, like where you see yourself in five years, can give the employer a few key pieces of information. It helps them to understand your professional goals and where their company may fit into your plans.
You may have applied for a position solely because you need a job and a paycheck. However, answering with that much honesty probably won’t help you land the role. Instead, you should focus on why you chose to apply to that particular company, position, or location.
5. What are your greatest weaknesses?
No one is perfect and even employers know this. Employers ask about your weaknesses to find out more about your job/skill fit. It can also uncover potential misalignments before extending a job offer.
6. How do you handle stress and/or pressure?
All jobs come with some stress, but the type of stress or pressure can vary from position to position. Driving a school bus full of kids is stressful. Performing surgery is stressful. Serving a full restaurant section is stressful. Employers want to know that you’re confident and capable when faced with the type of stressors you’ll encounter on the job.
7. Why did you leave your last job?
Asking about your previous employment is a no-brainer for interviewers, but equally important is asking about why you left. Hiring and training a new employee takes a lot of time, energy, and money. So, it’s important to spot potential issues before hiring.
8. Why are you the best person for this job?
The point of an interview is to sell yourself. Few questions tee a jobseeker up like the question of “Why are you the best person for this job?” Similar to the “Tell me about yourself” , this one allows interviewees to unleash an answer tailored to the exact industry, company, and position.
9. What are your salary expectations?
Employers ask this question when there is no salary or wage listed on the job description. You don’t want to exclude yourself from consideration or sell yourself short. So, it can feel awkward to discuss salary expectations before being offered a position. Nevertheless, this question can often help employers understand if you are in the same ballpark. If you are early in the interview process, you may want to offer a range or ask to hear more about the role requirements and responsibilities before answering.
10. Do you have any questions for me?
No matter what kind of opportunity you are interviewing for, you should have questions. Taking on a new role or starting a new job is a big step for both you and the employer. Having questions shows that you’re proactive, curious, and serious about getting the position.
How to prepare for general interview questions
The questions asked in an interview might be fairly standard across different companies and roles. Even so, that doesn’t mean your responses should sound canned or rehearsed. Here are four basic tips for having well-prepared, but not scripted, answers.
Know the questions
Congratulations! You’re already taking one of the best first steps toward being prepared for job interview questions simply by doing your research. While you won’t know specifically which questions a prospective employer will ask you, you are already on the right track by finding out the typical interview questions asked by most recruiters and hiring managers.
Prepare some bullet points
Rather than writing out and rehearsing full responses to standard interview questions, try creating a few bullet points to map out your point. On one hand, this will give you enough preparation to have a coherent and confident response. On the other hand, it allows enough flexibility and freedom to create an answer that comes across as natural.
Customize to the role
One of the best parts about the fact that many companies and interviewers use the same basic interview questions is that you can take a stock answer and customize it to the specific industry, company, or role you want. This allows you to prepare a response once and then leverage that for every subsequent interview.
Plan for variations
Don’t let little surprises throw you off track during an interview! You can ensure preparedness by asking a friend or family member to help you practice common job interview questions with a slight twist. Instead of asking for just one “greatest strength” or what your 5-year plan is, have them change up the questions slightly. Inquire about multiple greatest strengths or your 2-year plan. The goal is to get yourself accustomed to quickly tailoring your well-prepared answers to fit a similar, yet slightly different question.
How create template answers to interview questions
One of the biggest tricks to having outstanding answers to interview questions is to devise a template for your responses. Having a template gives you an established framework that allows you to craft customized-sounding responses quickly. It can also take some of the pressure off you when you’re in the hot seat.
In general, a response to an interview question should have these components:
- Restate the question
- Make a claim
- Give an example that backs up your claim
- Tell the result/consequence of the actions taken
- Tie it back to the position or your interest in the position
Interviewer👩🏽💼: “Can you tell me about a time when you went above and beyond for a customer?”
“Of course! An example of a time I went above and beyond for a customer  is when I was working for a florist and we got a delivery order to be sent to a local hospital . The order came in after our daily cutoff time so it wouldn’t be delivered until the next day, but the recipient would have already been released. The customer was heartbroken because we were the only flower shop in town and she was away that weekend. I offered to make a special delivery on my own time to ensure the person would get their bouquet that day . The customer was overjoyed and we ended up getting a huge wedding order for her later that year . To me, it wasn’t that big of a deal but I know how much it meant to her and that’s why I did it. That’s the level of customer service you could expect from me as an employee .”
How to answer interview questions you weren’t expecting
The ability to think on your feet is incredibly helpful when it comes to job interview questions and answers. Unfortunately, that skill can be difficult to call up when you are in the hot seat across from an interviewer. So what do you do? Here are some popular ways to answer questions you weren’t expecting.
Buy a little time
Imagine this. You’re sitting in an interview and you feel like it’s going great. Suddenly, the interviewer throws a question you hadn’t expected. Maybe it’s a theoretical Google-style question like “How many golf balls would it take to fill the Statue of Liberty” or it’s something situational like “What would you do if you made a costly mistake, but you were the only one who knew it was your fault?” No matter the case, you’re on the spot and you have no prepared response.
Instead of trying to pass the time with an endless string of “um’s” and “uh’s” try the phrase, “That’s a good/interesting question.” This phrase lets the interviewer know you were listening. Also, it gives you a few seconds to collect your thoughts before requiring a response.
Walkthrough your thought process
In many cases, when an interviewer asks a question that catches you off-guard, they are likely more interested in your thought process than the actual solution. For example, when the interviewer asks “How many phone calls are answered in the United States every day?”, it is likely that the interviewer is more interested in your estimation and reasoning skills than an actual answer.
Instead of doing mental math, taking a wild guess. Instead of saying you don’t know and leaving it at that, you could also tell the interviewer how you would go about finding the answer. While you will likely still have to make some guesses and logic leaps, this method of answering gives you more time. It’s not about being technically correct. It is about coming away with a good answer.
Circle back to past experiences
Another way to supplement your interview responses is to draw parallels to your previous experience. Some interviewers tend to focus heavily on hypothetical scenarios which can be helpful for people with little to no experience in the field, but if you have experience, make sure it shows!
If an interviewer asks a situational question about something you have experience in, then don’t be afraid to shine. For example, if an interviewer asks how you would handle an upset customer, don’t follow their theoretical lead. Instead, tell them about a time that you did just that! Even if the situation is not a perfect apples-to-apples comparison, starting with “This reminds me of…” and then following with a time you were in a similar situation that ended with positive results.